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Using the History Detectives to Bring Historical Methodology to Life
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Research Methodology

How to Cite

Ammons, Samantha. 2013. “Using the History Detectives to Bring Historical Methodology to Life”. TRAILS: Teaching Resources and Innovations Library for Sociology, November. Washington DC: American Sociological Association.


After a brief lecture on historical data and methodology, students watch the "Crazy Horse Photo" episode of the PBS show "History Detectives" (Season 7 episode 5) and then participate in a guided class discussion. This activity reinforces their understanding of core methodological terms and validity concerns that are specific to historical data.

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Subject Area(s):
Research Methods
Resource Type(s):
Class Activity, Video
Class Level(s):
College 200
Class Size(s):

Usage Notes

I use this class activity in a semester-long undergraduate research methods course that introduces students to common methods employed by social scientists. Prior to watching the video (episodes are ~15-20 minutes long and available at, I give a brief lecture on why sociologists do historical research, different...

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Learning Goals and Assessments

Learning Goal(s):

  1. To strengthen their understanding of why historical research is an important methodology.
  2. To reinforce student’s knowledge of the difference between primary sources and secondary sources, and the difference between internal and external criticism.
  3. To demonstrate that the skills learned in a methods course have relevance outside the classroom and elicit deeper interest in research methodology among students.

Goal Assessment(s):

  1. I assess understanding of the importance of historical research by asking students who Crazy Horse was, and asking them to imagine that the photo was of him. How would it transform our understanding of the past and alter how we view the present?
  2. After viewing the episode, I ask students whether the artifacts were primary or secondary sources, and have them tell me examples of the internal and external criticisms used to assess the artifacts.
  3. During the video and class discussion, student interest and participation is closely monitored.

When using resources from TRAILS, please include a clear and legible citation.

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